Explore the symbolism of February’s birthday flowers: violet and iris

violets by Ruth Syron

February folks actually have a choice of two flowers for their birthday, the iris and the violet.

The violet has a charming and long history in mythology. Greek myth states that Zeus fell in love with Io. Zeus was afraid that Hera, his wife, would discover him and Io, so he made Io into a white heifer. Zeus created the sweet scented flower that we know as the violet for Io to eat while she was a heifer. Hera placed an insect pest on Io as the white heifer, so she roamed all over the land trying to free herself from the pest.  Zeus finally caught the heifer and put his hand on her, and she turned back into Io. She gave birth to their child, who founded many nations.

Another Greek myth states that Persephone, a young lady, was walking in a field of violets when Hades saw her and fell in love with her. Hades took her to his kingdom of death and the world became barren. Hades allowed Persephone to return in the spring, and the violets returned as well. However, Persephone must go back to Hades at the end of autumn, and world becomes barren until she returns again in spring.violet

In the Middle Ages, the violet was a symbol of humility , chastity, faithfulness and modesty, and was a symbol for Mary, Jesus’s mother, who is known for these attributes. It is easy to see how these traits became associated with this plant when you look at a violet in bloom. The blooms are pretty much under the dark green, heart-shaped leaves, and appear to peek out from under the leaves. The plant is small in stature and not bright in color.

Violets are also self pollinators, meaning that a bee or other plant is not necessary for the violet to bloom. This symbolizes the belief of the virgin birth.The violet also has meanings of immortality, resurrection and spring.

A real love story, with violets, is that of Josephine and Napoleon Bonaparte. The favorite perfume of Josephine was violets. Violets were planted in the beautiful gardens that Josephine planned in France. When Napoleon visited Josephine’s grave he picked violets to leave on her grave. When Napoleon died, in his locket were violets and a lock of Josephine’s hair. That is real romance. Perhaps that is why violets were chosen for the month that celebrates love and romance in a single day day called Valentine’s Day.  Violets later became a heraldic symbol of Napoleon and his family.

In the Victorian era, words of romantic expression were discouraged, so the language of flowers was very important.  Purple violets meant “I’ll always be true,” and violet and cream-colored violets said, “Let’s take a chance.”

iris Iris is the other February birthday flower. Symbols of iris are known to exist on Egyptian ancient buildings.

In ancient Greek mythology, Greece Iris was the messenger between the gods and the earth. The rainbow became the outward visible symbol of Iris.

In heraldry, the iris is also known as a fleur-de-lis.

The iris has three upright petals that symbolize faith, valor and wisdom. The deep color is a promise of spring luxuries yet to come. If a bouquet has white iris mixed with purple, it symbolizes the remembrances of winter past, along with spring’s promise. If gold iris is also added to the bouquet, it adds the dimension of passion to the mix, along with a visually stimulating color blend.

The iris blooms come in many colors, but the blue or purple iris is the main birthday flower color for February.

Happy birthday February readers!
February Flower Trivia

  • Io is Greek for violet.
  • Vias is the base word of violet, meaning wayside.
  • The iris has hundreds  of species to chose from.

Ruth Syron is a gardening enthusiast and regular contributor to the Medina Journal Register and Albion Advertiser.

The photos of violets are from Paolo Gadler and the photo of the iris is from Eveline Lippet.

7 Comments on “Explore the symbolism of February’s birthday flowers: violet and iris

  1. The stories of the violet and iris were interesting, thank you for providing even more reasons for loving flowers and our gardens!!! I look forward to your “publication.”

  2. Judie,
    Thanks so much! That article was written by Ruth Syron, who is new to our magazine. She will be contributing articles from time to time, so you have even more to look forward to!
    Best,
    Connie

  3. Why is it that there are multiple choices for the birth month flower for February? I have read it could either the Iris, Violet and even the Primrose. I am confused as to which is more appropriate. Any help would be great.

    Thanks and best regards.

  4. Michelle,
    Interesting question. Where did these lists come from and which one is correct?

    After doing a little bit of research, I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer. I did find an article on Wikipedia that isn’t very detailed, did shed some light on the question. It points out that there seem to be systems: One in the U.S. and one in the U.K.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birth_flower
    According to that article, the flower for February here is the primrose and in the U.K. is violet. It doesn’t even mention iris.

    Which of the three flowers is most appropriate to use? Whichever you deem is most appropriate. It is possible that someone might quarrel with you, insisting that another choice is the “real” flower for February. But since there is no consensus, you’re free to choose whichever flower you like.

  5. Is there a specific type of violet for February? I’ve been wanting a violet tattoo for my month, but African violets and true violets popped up. Are they both for February, or is it a specific type of violet? Thanks

  6. Danielle, just as there is no strong consensus on what the “real” flower for February is– it could be violet or iris or primrose– I think if you choose the violet, you can interpret it any way you want. African violets aren’t really related to garden violets, but they are beautiful, and if you want to go in that direction, there is no authority to say that you are wrong. However, if you want people to glance at your tattoo and know immediately that it is a violet, I would go with the violet we see in our garden. It has a distinctive petal arrangement and if you make the image two-toned, say yellow and purple, and add the striping, people will know immediately that it is a violet. I think if you use a single flower from an African violet for your tattoo, people will look at it and know it’s a flower, but not know it’s supposed to be an African violet. The fat leaves and the clusters of flowers are distinguishing features of an African violet, and I don’t think you’d want to include all that. A tattoo artist should be able to help you answer those questions. I hope that helps.

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